“Everything in life has a beginning and an end, everything has a price to pay. If this is just the way it is, I am not ready to have one of my associates paying this price; and I, am not ready either.” In an editorial published on April, 2nd, Norte de Ciudad Juarez’s editor in chief, Oscar Cantú Murguía announces that 27 years after its creation, his newspapers would no longer be published. A strong gesture just days after the murder of Norte de Ciudad Juarez’s journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea; a tragic symbol for freedom of the press in Mexico.
In early March, Cecilio Pineda, director of La Voz de Tierra Caliente, was killed in a car wash. On March 23rd, Miroslava Breach Velducea, of Norte de Ciudad Juarez and of La Jornada, was shot in front of her house in Chihuahua, northern Mexico; the murderer had time to leave an explanation note: “Por lengua larga” – “For your ready tongue”. A few days later, Ricardo Monlui, director of El Politico, was assassinated when leaving a restaurant; he is the third Mexican journalist killed in the country in less than a month.
Apart from their occupation, these three reporters had another characteristic in common: they were investigating on political corruption and drugs cartels in Mexico, two strongly related spheres in which bribe, conflict of interests, extreme violence and reprisals meet.
Threats, violence and crimes against journalists in Mexico: common and unpunished offenses
When specifically coming to journalists’ freedom and safety, figures are more than alarming.
In its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Mexico 149th out of 180 countries. The NGO also states that it is the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist: according to NGO Article 19, since 2000, 104 were killed; 23 are missing.
2016 appears to be the most murderous year since 2000, with 11 journalists killed and 426 assaulted – in other words, over 1 Mexican reporter was mugged every day last year. Overall, 40% of practicing media professionals have received threats or intimidations from organized crime, but also from civil servants (study of University Iberoamericana).
Only 0.25% of crimes against Mexican journalists are solved
When coming to journalists’ murder, 99.75% of them are not punished in the country, according to Article 19 Mexico’s leader, Ana Cristina Ruelas: “Only 0.25% of crimes are solved”. She adds that it is just like the Mexican government was implicitly saying to its citizens: “You won’t have any problem if you kill a journalist.”
But what about journalists’ protection?
A protection does exist, but it is far from being flawless and it is more symbolic than operational – a means, maybe, of calming (international) critics down.
Mexico created in 2007 a public prosecutor’s department devoted to crimes against freedom of expression. In 2012, a mechanism of protection for journalists was settled, for those who feel in danger or who are threatened: body guards, CCTV cameras, emergency button… are some of the options available to ensure media professionals’ safety. However a majority of journalists, including Miroslava Breach Velducea, doesn’t request this protection: 90% of reporters don’t trust the Mexican judiciary system. It is of common knowledge that Mexican administration is highly corrupted: out of 176 countries, Mexico is ranked #123 in terms of corruption according to Transparency International.
Mexican journalists don’t request official protection: 90% of them don’t trust the judiciary system
Is the Mexican administration truly considering journalists’ unbearable and life endangering situation? Even if attempts of protection are displayed, needless to say that in ten years, media professionals’ situation and safety didn’t improve: most of them are still threatened, physically assaulted and killed. Is it difficult to devote resources to this cause in a country that is still developing, or is it a simple lack of consideration for those who may reveal and jeopardize administration’s illegal schemes?
An harassed profession facing authorities’ inaction
On social media, the hashtag #YaBastaDeBalas (“Enough of Bullets”) gathers fed-up journalists as well as citizens who want the massacre to stop; huge crowds demonstrated in the streets, stating that “Killing journalists don’t kill the truth”. NGOs and associations are demanding serious investigations on recent assassinations, but also an improvement and development of the mechanism protection that is currently offered.
How journalists are supposed to investigate freely, efficiently, neutrally when they are under constant threats? Danger combines itself to a lack of financial stability: Mexican reporters earn between 4,000 and 12,000 pesos a month… that is to say between $212 and $637 a month. As French journalist Frédéric Saliba points out, it is a ridiculously low wage to risk one’s life in order to provide qualitative information to fellow citizens.
For the redaction of Norte de Ciudad Juarez, the last assassinations were three too many. On April, 2nd, the edition was soberly titled “¡ADIÓS!” (“GOODBYE!”).
Screenshot of Norte de Ciudad Juarez’s last frontpage, April 2nd, 2017.
To everyone’s shock, editor in chief Oscar Cantú Murguía announced that the local newspapers was stopping its activity, after the death of its journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea. The journalist doesn’t want his team or himself to be exposed to life threatening situations anymore: this event appears as a sad day for Mexican press and freedom of speech, and also as a symbol of a growing antidemocratic atmosphere.
Due to the current situation, is Norte de Ciudad Juarez the first newspapers of a long list to stop its activity? Or will this action be perceived as a cry for help, that will incite authorities to finally act?
Featured image: © Carlos Latuff (http://twitpic.com/3x749j) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.